Food Pantries Are Saying No to Junk Food

Nutritious foods are taking the place of candy, cakes and soda

Starting this weekend, Washington, D.C.'s largest food pantry will stop accepting donations of unhealthy items like cake, soda and candy. Nancy Roman, president and CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank, tells Vox, "We have a moral obligation to not just get food to people—but the right food."

Roman's decision touches on a growing issue in America: the link between food insecurity and obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. In 2015, approximately 5 million households receiving food from Feeding America, the country's largest hunger relief organization, reported having at least one household member with diabetes—a third of the population the organization serves—the New York Times reports. "We don't want to be the food police. We believe people are entitled to eat cakes. But we want [ours] to be a balanced offering," Roman says.

For individuals in households without enough, consistent access to food, the choice to eat unhealthy foods like beans, rice, potatoes, soda and junk food can stem from the fact that they are typically less expensive than nutritious foods.

Capital Area Food Bank isn't the only food bank working on providing healthier options. At the Houston Food Bank, vegetables, fish and peanut butter line the shelves. Guests are also provided with free blood sugar testing and offered the chance to enroll in a program to help lower it.

As early as 2014, a food bank in the Bay Area started to refuse donations of soda. As Roman points out, one of the biggest changes for the organization has been getting supermarkets that donate food to weed out unhealthy options. So far, she says, most have been happy to oblige.